Wine Tasting at Bacchus

A nice night out in Scottsdale.

My friend Tom, who is a wine lover like me, has a home in the Scottsdale, AZ area, where he lives during the week. (You may recall the article I wrote about dinner at Tom’s Wickenburg home.) On Wednesday nights, he goes to a wine shop named Bacchus, for wine tastings. It’s mostly a social event, but it also gives him an opportunity to try a wide variety of wines, many of which he purchases for his wine “cellar.” He’s urged us to join him, but since Scottsdale is a 60-mile drive from Wickenburg, it isn’t exactly convenient.

Yesterday, however, I had some other plans that included a trip to Scottsdale. I needed to drop off my “airport car” at a friend’s hangar near Scottsdale Airport, where it would wait patiently for my next trip down there. About half of Flying M Air’s business is out of Scottsdale these days and since the old Toyota wasn’t doing anything worthwhile in Wickenburg, I thought I’d leave it in Scottsdale for ground transportation when I flew down for business. So I drove it down there yesterday afternoon. The poor car rides terribly at slow speeds in city stop-and-go situations, but is like a magic carpet at highway speeds. The speedometer must be wrong because it said we were doing almost 80 all the way down there but it sure didn’t feel like it and there were still a few cars passing us on the highway. The radio’s speakers are all broken too now — must be the dry air — so I had to listen to my iPod with ear buds. That was okay because the car is also pretty loud (the engine is right behind me and it rides low to the ground) and the plug-style buds I wear blwocked out most of the road noise. I tried to catch up with NPR podcasts and managed to hear at least 15 of them during the ride.

Along the way, I stopped at Tom’s business in the Deer Valley area, AeroPhoenix. Tom’s a distributor for aviation/pilot supplies and he occasionally lets me wander through his warehouse to look at all the great books (he must have the largest selection of aviation books anywhere), gadgets, and other pilot aids he sells. (This is the business I’d hoped he’d bring to Wickenburg, but he’s pretty settled down in Deer Valley and doesn’t want to move.) I wanted to pick up two pilot shirts — you know, the kind with the do-dads on the shoulder so I could wear my captain’s bars. Although most flights are too casual for such attire, I occasionally do VIP transportation for a Wickenburg-based business owner and I think wearing a captain’s “uniform” would help impress my client’s clients. He had these great helicopter ties, too, but I even thought that particular width is in style, I like a narrower tie. (I’ve never been accused of being stylish.) I invited Tom to join Mike and I for dinner at Deseo for some ceviche. But Tom was busy with work and said he’d have a hard enough time getting to the wine tasting by 6:30.

I met Mike at Scottsdale Airport after parking the Toyota at its new home away from home. We went to the Westin Kierland Resort and Spa, a relatively new hotel just west of the Kierland Commons shopping center near Scottsdale Airport. It’s a nice place — I certainly wouldn’t mind staying there! We found Deseo on the lower level. Unfortunately, since it was only 5:30, the restaurant was still closed. But the bar was open and they were serving mojitos and a limited menu for appetizers. We ordered a pair of the smoothest mojitos I’ve ever had and five different ceviche dishes. As we waited for the food, the small bar filled with people. A bowl game was just starting on the big television above the bar. Our food came from the kitchen in two batches: five incredible collections of ingredients and flavors. We argued over which dish was best and decided that we’d have to come back for dinner in the restaurant and try again.

We asked the concierge for directions to Bacchus. It was in Kierland Commons, about a half mile from the hotel. We took the car so we could park it nearby and save a walk after the tasting. We wound up having to valet park it; there were no spaces near the shops.

Bacchus is a wine shop with a limited selection of wines and a very knowledgeable, service-oriented staff. If you want something they don’t have, they can order it for you, Tom assured us later in the evening. The tasting was $15 per person. After establishing where Tom usually sits (he wasn’t there yet), we took our tasting glasses and notes to the table and introduced ourselves to the folks already there. Among them was Stan, another Bacchus regular. Our table filled up quickly, although I was able to hold a seat for Tom. He arrived right before the tasting, looking a little disheveled, and took the seat I’d saved beside me.

I’ll be honest — I was a bit disappointed with the tasting. It wasn’t the wine so much — I liked two of them and didn’t care much for the other two. It was the accompanying lecture. The session was supposed to be Wine Tasting 101, a beginner’s guide to tasting wine. But rather than step us through the wine tasting process — swirl, examine the legs, sniff, sip, roll around on the palette, etc. — the lecturer gave us tidbits of tasting information as we tried the four wines over a 90-minute period. I was hoping for a more step-by-step approach, with the lecturer telling us, with each wine, what we should be smelling and tasting. It always bothered me that wines could be described as having vanilla or almond or blackberry flavors and I could never taste it. I was hoping to learn how to taste it. I guess the point is, I was hoping to learn. The lecture, however, didn’t cover anything more than I could get from a few winery visits in Napa or Sonoma county.

(Okay, so not everyone in the Scottsdale area has the inclination to go for wine tastings in California’s wine country. But we’ve been there four times, most recently this past June, so there wasn’t much new to us. I never thought of myself as a wine “expert” — and still don’t — but we’re apparently better educated about wine than most people.)

I liked the chardonnay (Le Snoot, 2005) and cabernet sauvignon (Edge, 2004) that we tasted. After the last wine, Tom ordered a bottle of one of his favorites for the table: Giacomo Vico Barbera d’ Alba 2001. It’s a nice, smooth red wine. When that was gone, he ordered an Ada Nada Barbaresco Elisa 2000. Even better.

Now if you’re wondering how I remembered the exact names of the wines, I didn’t. I bought a total of six bottles (two each of the chardonnay and cabernet and one each of the Barbera and Barbaresco and just read the names off the labels. I don’t go to wine tastings just to taste wine. I go to find wines I can buy and bring home and drink. The purchase stood me back over $100 — this ain’t Two-Buck Chuck — but now I know I have good wines on hand for good meals and special occasions.

The last bottle was only halfway finished when Mike and I rose to leave. Tom was going to be moving on to a place called the Ocean Club, where he sometimes went after tastings to meet friends. Evidently, there’s a piano bar there and people gather around and sing. (I don’t think he’s talking about karaoke, either.)

Unfortunately, Mike and I had horses to feed and a dog to let out. Wickenburg was 60 miles away. Although we’d each had a fair helping of wine, it had been spread out over a long enough period that neither of us were anywhere near drunk. We retrieved the car from the valet and Mike drove us home. We stepped in the door at 9:30 PM.

Tom’s left us with an open invitation to join him at Bacchus any Wednesday evening. He has a guest room in his Scottsdale area condo where we can spend the night if we need to. I might take him up on that offer now that I have a car in Scottsdale. The next time I fly into Scottsdale on a Wednesday, when I’m finished with business, I’ll park the helicopter for the night. Then I’ll drive on over to Bacchus for some wine, hit the Ocean Club to check out the scene there, and crash at Tom’s place. In the morning, I can fly back to Wickenburg. Sounds like a plan, huh?

Now all I need is a Wednesday charter down in Scottsdale.

What do you think?